It’s only the second weekend of cyclocross racing in the US and we’re already talking about heckling.

Words by Dan Chabanov // Main image by Geoffrey Tomes

Every season something really messed up happens that gets the community riled up. Since I have this little soapbox here, I’m going to take a stab at addressing the latest brouhaha.

If you haven’t heard by now, this year’s spark, dubbed Beergate, involved a few spectators at Cross Vegas last week in Nevada. They were spraying the racers in the face with beer, throwing “hooker cards,” and lobbing cans full of beer onto the course.

In a postrace interview, Dutch star Lars van der Haar was asked about his race experience and what he thought of the crowds. “If they’re going to keep throwing beer, I’m not going to come back,” he said, visibly angry. “That’s not cycling — that’s not cyclocross.”

beergate cross vegas photos
Doing it wrong: Spectators sprayed beer on Cross Vegas racers. (Photo: Meg McMahon)

I happened to be up late watching the event online, and I was mortified to hear one of the best cyclocrossers in the world receive such shitty treatment. Whoever sprayed the beer embarrassed US cyclocross. It’s a letdown to all who love the sport.

I realize that part of the appeal of cyclocross, and why it has gotten so popular so quickly, is the party atmosphere. And the party is a fun, easy way to bring new people in. But it also means that sometimes we as a community have to show fans where the line is drawn. Occasionally, some people who ought to know better also need to be reminded where that line is. The thing is, it’s clear-cut: It goes all the way around the course, and it’s called the course tape. If you keep the party on the right side of the tape, there’s no issue.

I know of no racer, not one, who’s going to begrudge anyone the right to have a great time at a cyclocross race. We want you to come out and have a swell time. But don’t show up if your goal is to force the party on the racers. The flip side of the super-serious bike racer is the ass yelling at that racer to have more fun.

While on the subject of fan etiquette, a quick word about heckling. Cyclocross has a long-standing tradition of heckling. I myself think heckling is dumb. I’d rather cheer my friends rather than try to think of clever ways to insult them. But I admit I’ve heard some wickedly witty heckles. Problem is, for every one of those, I’ve heard nine that were merely insults.

sven nys wins cross vegas 2014
Sven Nys won Cross Vegas ahead of beer-sprayed Lars van der Haar. (BTB.tv)

Now, let’s talk about actual bike racing. Have you heard of this kid Cameron Dodge? I mentioned him in this column a few times last season, and for good reason. He’s got those one-in-a-million physiological abilities, and he’s only going to get better. He proved me right big time at Cross Vegas, riding in the Sven Nys group pretty much the entire race and finishing 10th against a world-class field. Someone needs to pay attention to this kid so he can stop working as a general contractor and just ride his bike.

I might be a little biased because I get to race Cameron often in the local races here on the East Coast. This past weekend we got to go head to head twice, at Independence Cross and Granogue. Independence (formerly Beacon) is one of my favorite courses because unlike many races that use stakes and tape to create random turns in a field, this race relies largely on wooded trails. The tape is there to make sure you don’t get lost. (I heard a rumor they’re bidding on hosting US cyclocross nationals for 2017.)

Saturday

Independence is a fast course. It’s mostly flat with a few long straights where you can really wind it up. I took the holeshot — mostly because at local races I like racing from the gun and I don’t really trust people enough to want to be behind them. After a half lap we had a group of four with Cam and me swapping pulls. The two guys sitting on were Roger Aspholm and someone from High Gear–Trek. Normally everyone in the group would take pulls, but I didn’t want to leave Cam’s wheel because I knew he was the strongest, so when he pulled through I would just slot in behind him.

I concluded that with so much drafting on the course we should get rid of the other two early, because once riders start to smell the finish line it’s harder to shake them. With three to go I went up the big stairs hard with Cam on my wheel, and then I really hit it up the long paved finishing straight in hopes of making the separation stick. Soon it was just Cam and me.

I knew he’d try to shake me early, because letting things come down to a sprint can be risky. As we started the bell lap he gapped me on the log. We were both riding it, but he didn’t seem to slow down for it, whereas I had to scrub speed to clear it safely. It took me a whole half-lap to close that gap.

I realized the stairs would be the deciding obstacle. We attacked and counterattacked each other heading into the stairs with the result being that Cam hit the steps first. After about three steps I realized I couldn’t run that fast anymore and that it was not going to come down to a sprint. I was still happy with my ride — and by the transitive property of results I got 11th at Cross Vegas, right?

Sunday

Granogue is a classic venue with a tower at the top of a hill as its symbol. The race has been around for a long time as a UCI event. It’s known as the Crown Jewel of the Mid-Atlantic.

granogue crosss cyclocross mid-atlantic

It’s a tough, hilly course, which meant that Cam destroyed everyone on the opening lap. I settled into my own race with Cole Oberman, and we were both racing for second. Cole and I are evenly matched. Last weekend, at Nittany Lion Cross, I was 15th and Cole 16th.

We took turns hitting each other until two to go when I got a gap. But it was short-lived: My rear tire was going soft. I got on my spare bike with one to go and big gap to close. In the end I had to settle for third, which I was still happy with on such a tough course. Plus, with three weeks of demanding UCI racing on tap, it was good to grab a bit of local glory.

Next up, Charm City Cross!